Protection Equipment Demonstration: Something for Everyone
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 14, 2003 One passenger riding the shuttle bus to the main entrance said the line of people waiting to get in stretched for what seemed like a mile. Another said he had waited at least an hour the day before to get through the gate. However, neither seemed to mind the inconvenience.
They, along with thousands of others, had come to Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., to see the latest in force protection equipment and technology And for them, the delays were worth the wait.
Under rows of tents and inside large aircraft hangars, more than 2,600 force protection products were demonstrated and exhibited for Defense Department, federal and local agencies at Force Protection Equipment Demonstration IV May 6-8.
The event attracted more than 500 companies from around the world and showcased high-tech gadgets and equipment -- everything from individual protective gear to robotic devices and biometric recognition technology.
Eugene Hudson, chairman of DoD's physical security equipment action group, said because of continuing concern of terrorism, the focus of the demonstration was to give government and civilian officials a firsthand look at readily available technology to meet their force protection needs.
"The most valuable aspect is that leaders see what is available and what is possible," Hudson said. "The purpose is not necessarily to buy equipment. What we do is raise awareness of all involved on what is available, what is possible, and further the process."
This equipment demonstration started in 1997, the year after the bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. That attack killed 19 servicemen and revealed the need for better force protection measures. It also prompted then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. John Shalikashvili to direct the military to find ways of improving its force protection by looking into commercial-off-the-shelf solutions, Hudson said.
Each of the four equipment demonstrations held since then has grown larger in both attendance and in the types of equipment displayed, officials said.
For this year's gathering, most demonstrations hinged on innovative ways to protect against and detect explosive threats, an area of heightened interest in DoD's war on terrorism. Other exhibited items addressed a variety of security concerns among them, chemical/biological detection and protection equipment, cargo-inspection devices, delay and denial barriers, and fence sensor systems.
For example, one company, Med-Eng Systems, Inc., showed off its "RoBoCop"-like suit made of thick layers of Kevlar for protection against heat, flames, blast fragmentation and impact. It weighs about 40 pounds and comes with a special undergarment, boots and gloves to protect wearers against chemical, biological and radiological exposure.
"It's an all-in-one," said Danny Crossman, product line manager for blast systems, explained. And another company representative, technical adviser Ray James, added, "It's the only bomb suit in the world that integrates adequate protection against a explosive device with biological and chemical protection."
Another protective garment, called the thermal individual camouflage suit, makes wearers nearly invisible, according to manufacturer Santee Security Products. The suit was evaluated by a Marine tactical team and provides stealth capabilities against thermal and infrared radiation cameras and night-vision goggles.
Robots were another popular item. Those on display included MATILDA, built by Mesa Associates, which uses a robotic arm to investigate and detonate suspected bombs and packages.
The robot's interchangeable platform can also mount a dual-missile launcher. The two bazooka-like tubes that sit atop one MATILDA model function like "a "bunker buster, to blow holes in walls to gain access to buildings," said program manager Mike Cole. "It's been tested a couple of times, but still under development with the Army and the Joint Projects Office," he said. This office, officially known as the Joint Projects Office for Unmanned Ground Vehicles, has the Army and Marine Corps working together.
The robot can pull payloads up to 500 pounds, but is light enough to be carried on a backpack. Cole said that U.S. Army elements in Afghanistan and Iraq currently use the robot. About 70 have been sold to the military and government agencies, he added.
"Robotics are the thing of today," said Jeffery David, deputy director of DoD's Combating Terrorism Technology Support Office, which helps military and civilian explosive ordnance units find ways to deal with bomb threats.
"Whenever you know you are going into a hazardous area and there are explosive devices in front of you, it is preferred to send a robot if you can," David said. "What we're trying to do is to get better robots fielded so that they are much more mission-capable than what we have today."
Of several armored vehicles on display, the Cadillac Gage Peacekeeper II was one designed to provide ballistic protection.
Pointing to vehicle's half-inch thick armor plating, Gary Nelson, of Textron Marine and Land, said the vehicle can stop armor-piercing rounds at a 25-yard distance. The four- wheel-drive vehicle has a top speed of 70 mph and run-flat tires. It carries eight people, including the driver, and has another selling point -- air-conditioning, he said.
"There's a lot of protection on this thing; it's pretty safe," he added. "After 9-11 and with homeland defense, there is a lot of interest in this type of vehicle for SWAT teams and first responders," he said.
Biometrics was another force protection measure item showcased during the event. The technology uses facial recognition, fingerprint, iris scan and voice recognition to mark a person's identity.
Greg Johnson, a technical expert with the DoD's Biometrics Management Office, said such technology is useful for physical security, accountability and information access purposes. He said the military is already using biometrics for physical and security access, such as entering buildings and logging on to computers. He noted, for example, that instead of using an ID card or password, people can be identified by using their fingerprints.
"Anytime in DoD when someone is showing their ID card or signing their name, we can do that more accurately with biometrics," Gregory explained. "We can tell exactly who that person is and that becomes very valuable when doing things like accountability operations. It's nonrefutable."
But while some equipment hinged on cutting-edge technology, other applications were as simple and conventional as building a sand fortress using a plastic shovel and bucket.
Al Arellanes, president of Geocell Systems, demonstrated how to build sand barriers using a foldable plastic device. He said the rapid deployment flood wall could one day replace the sandbag. "It's 100 times faster," he said, than filling sandbags.
The modular and collapsible plastic grids require no special tools and can be assembled in seconds to hold sand horizontally to any desired length. The grids are also stackable to hold sand vertically, he said. "They can be used for flood-fighting, terrorist activities or any type of security situation."
Barney Greinke, director of marketing for the company, said the sand-filled wall can act as a barrier against vehicles, and can help stop small-arms fire and blast fragments from small bombs.
"You have to understand that a wall of sand 4 feet wide by 8 feet tall weighs around 12,000 pounds," Greinke said, "So it can be quite effective. It's basically replaces the sandbag."
Other equipment and technology demonstrated at the three-day event included night- vision optic capabilities, unmanned aerial vehicles and fire-resistant coatings.